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COVID-19

Weak box office is scaring Hollywood into delaying theater releases

Jasmine Garsd Sep 16, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Moviegoers watch a film at a reopened AMC theater in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, in August. While theaters are reopening, dragging box office numbers are spooking studios. Tom Cooper/Getty Images
COVID-19

Weak box office is scaring Hollywood into delaying theater releases

Jasmine Garsd Sep 16, 2020
Moviegoers watch a film at a reopened AMC theater in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, in August. While theaters are reopening, dragging box office numbers are spooking studios. Tom Cooper/Getty Images
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When the highly anticipated sci-fi film “Tenet” opened in theaters earlier this month, it was a kind of calculated risk that many say didn’t pay off.  

So far, “Tenet” has only made about $30 million domestically. And that’s spooking studios.

Hollywood got the message loud and clear, said Arun Sharma, a marketing professor at the University of Miami.

“The reaction now is to postpone any expected blockbusters to a later release date,” he said. That is why Warner Bro.s has postponed “Wonder Woman 1984.” The studio reportedly invested about $200 million in the sequel. Fans of the lasso-swinging superheroine are going to have to wait until Christmas to see it.

Now it’s rumored that “Black Widow” and the James Bond film “No Time To Die,” both due in November, will be postponed, too

A fall season with no tentpole Hollywood films is bad news for theaters. Professor Jason Squire at the University of Southern California said some might find it impossible to weather the storm.

“If it continues through the Holiday season … that’s a nine-month storm,” he said. “And this is really, really a serious serious event in the history of exhibition.”

That’s exacerbating tensions in Hollywood, which for decades has built audiences around shiny content. Lassoes! Car chases! Spies! Intergalactic battles! 

But for now, studios seem to be leaning toward playing it safe and putting the golden lasso away until winter.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are people still waiting for unemployment payments?

Yes. There is no way to know exactly how many people have been waiting for months and are still not getting unemployment, because states do not have a good system in place for tracking that kind of data, according to Andrew Stettner of The Century Foundation. But by his own calculations, only about 60% of people who have applied for benefits are currently receiving them. That means there are millions still waiting. Read more here on what they are doing about it.

Are we going to see another wave of grocery store shortages?

Well, public health officials are warning that we could see a second wave of the virus before the end of the year. And this time retailers want to be prepared if there’s high demand for certain products. But they can’t rely totally on predictive modeling. People’s shopping habits have ebbed and flowed depending on the state of COVID-19 cases or lockdowns. So, grocers are going to have to trust their guts.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out Tuesday from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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